Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is relatively alone yet content. He wakes up with a smile on his face and by the way, his work and Shawn Levy’s in Free Guy makes Reynolds look his most boyish, which plays into Guy’s oblivious nature. He has a daily routine involving the heroes with sunglasses robbing the bank where he works. That’s until one of those sunglasses people, Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) struts into his life. And his attraction to Molotov makes him want to be just like her. This is a 20th Century property that had its release delayed until now. But to its credit, the reveal about Guy living inside Free City, a video game, makes way for a more surprising plot twist.
The production has a dizzying first act, but an interesting thing happens after that. It gets its viewers to acclimate to the violence, especially when Guy somewhat participates in it. He steals a hero’s sunglasses, making him see the world through their eyes, that everything is a mission to them. Despite having a hero’s vision, Guy doesn’t do what heroes do. Instead he participates in acts of kindness that piques the interest of Antoine (Taika Waititi), Free City’s developer. The same goes for Mouser (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who solves the game’s bugs. And Mouser’s fellow problem solver, Keys (Joe Keery), interestingly enough, has a past connection with Molotov in real life.
Free Guy would have made for passable mainstream fare. Using Mariah Carey’s song Fantasy makes for a good nostalgic touch. It’s disappointing, then, that a movie about an NPC gaining intelligence has supporting characters that feel too archetypal. That’s true even for its target audience, who are kids. It writes the bank’s security guard, Buddy (Lil Red Howery), as Guy’s stereotypical Black best friend. The people in Molotov’s real world – her name there is Millie – are equally obnoxious. It also doesn’t help that the visuals, especially when Guy puts on the glasses, make the production feels more artificial and glossy than it’s supposed to be. I get that that’s the point but I still dislike it.
Speaking of archetypes, making Molotov a badass, gun wielding sexpot feels lazy, despite of the wink that comes with her characterization. Free Guy also puts Guy and Molotov in a romantic situation, and of course, they’ll have that moment between the second and the third act where Molotov tells him the truth about him living in a video game. Both actors, specifically Comer, do a lot of work in making that revelation emotionally resonant, but it still feels silly. I can get behind the production’s intentions of having heroes live up to their names. If only the movie lived up to that and thought all of its elements through.